SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – In 1972, Richard McCoy was teaching Sunday school and attending Brigham Young University.
He was also spending weekends as a pilot for the Utah National Guard.
But McCoy also had a secret that few knew about.
He had a desire to hijack a plane.
In the early 1970s hijacking of planes was becoming common. Most were for political reasons and others like D.B. Cooper and McCoy did it for money.
In 1972, veteran newsman Terry Wood was preparing for the ten o’clock news.
“We were picking up some traffic from the airport,” Wood recalled. “There’s a flash or bulletin. Apparently, there had been a hijacking without any details out of San Francisco.”
The plane was headed to Mexico but at that hour, it was over Utah.
Earlier that day, the hijacker boarded the plane in Denver and threatened to blow up the plane unless he gets $500,000. The plane lands in San Francisco as the money is brought into the plane.
It was very similar to D.B. Cooper’s famed hijacking six months earlier.
Cooper who went by the name of Dan Cooper also threatened to blow up the plane unless he received $200,000 in cash.
He got the money and the plane continued it’s path towards Seattle when he parachuted out of the back end of the plane.
D.B. Cooper was never seen or heard from again and became a legend.
Six months later, the United 727 reached Utah County and began slowing down. Wood remembered hearing that the plane’s back door was coming down.
“They said the backdoor had been lowered and it was somewhere over Salt Lake County, South Salt Lake County,” he said. “We’re just wide-eyed.”
In Utah County, the hijacker parachuted out of the plane with a half-million dollars. Just like D.B. Cooper.
“And he was gone,” Wood said. “All we heard the hijacker is gone from the plane,” he said. “And we’re going ‘oh my gosh.'”
The hijacker landed in a remote field west of Springville.
Later he was seen walking into Springville’s Hi-Spot drive-in and ordered a hamburger and left.
Back then, Pete Zimmerman was 16 years old and remembered a man asking for a ride.
“He said I really need a ride bad, would you consider it?'” Zimmerman said. “(He said) it’s right on the south side of Provo. It’s not very far at all you know. I can really use some help.”
Zimmerman gave in and drove the stranger to Provo.
While heading to Provo, Zimmerman said he noticed strange lights over Utah Lake.
“I just made the comment ‘I wonder what those are?'” he said. “He just piped right up and said those are search flares. I used to drop those in (Viet)nam. And I go ‘hmm. I wonder what they’re doing?’ And he goes ‘Oh they’re looking for something or somebody.'”
Zimmerman arrived at the man’s home in Provo and dropped him off.
The next morning, Utahns wake up to the news of a hijacking. Authorities are searching for the suspect in Utah County.
The Utah National Guard sent its helicopters to search. Newsman Terry Wood also went out. He was a member of the guard’s communications department.
“We were the news reporters for the national guard,” he said. “So we were out there shooting video too.”
But the search was futile. The suspect couldn’t be found. Meanwhile, the FBI got several tips including one from Zimmerman.
“I gave that guy a ride home,” Zimmerman said. “I knew it right then. He knew too much. He was obviously a pilot.”
A family member of McCoy and a close friend also contacted the FBI about the 29-year-old.
Based on those tips and other information they started to watch for any sign of McCoy at his Provo home.
A neighbor remembered seeing two men in a car.
“I went over there where they were parked,” neighbor Dennis Ash said. “I was afraid they were breaking into the houses and I went over and rapped on the window and asked what’s going on and they in no uncertain terms told me to get the … out of there.”
McCoy was a Vietnam vet, a family man, BYU student and a member of the guard.
Two days after jumping from the United passenger jet, McCoy was under arrest.
“It was largely because of citizens tips,” said Fox. “And they also, they found a fingerprint of his too, very quickly after and that had identified him very quickly.”
Tuesday, in part two of D.B. Cooper: The Real McCoy, an author who penned a book by that same title reached the conclusion that they are one and the same.